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Byron Shire
May 18, 2024

Accom biz step up for flood victims

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Flooding near Ballina Fair, 2 March 2022. Photo David Lowe.

From the moment the flood waters began to inundate the homes of Northern Rivers locals, it was the community itself that rose to the challenge of saving lives and property.

And as the focus of the recovery effort has shifted to finding homes for those displaced by the disaster, it’s the community that has once again led the way.

With the ‘housing pods’ promised by the State government yet to materialise, thousands of residents across the region have offered up their spare rooms, granny flats, caravans and studios to people in need.

The logistics of this process has been undertaken by scores of unsung volunteers and local social workers, most of them independent of any government agency, who are painstakingly matching people with the right home.

At the same time, accommodation businesses are also stepping in.

Many people have lost their homes in the 2022 flood.

From resorts, backpacker hostels, motor lodges and caravan parks, to the companies who manage Airbnb properties for their out-of-town owners, there has been an unprecedented level of cooperation to meet the daunting challenge of helping people find temporary homes.

‘The number of people who are stepping up has been amazing,’ said local developer Brandon Saul, who is coordinating one of the Byron Shire’s largest housing relief efforts, DonateAStay.

‘One of the beautiful things about it is that it’s everyone, including those who sometimes cop flack in the housing industry, who are pitching in’ Mr Saul said.

One of these businesses, Byron-based A Perfect Stay, has quietly mobilised its staff and dozens of the hosts it represents to help provide short-term accommodation.

Elements of Byron Resort was one of the first traditional accommodation providers to step up, offering up its Bayshore Bungalows, located next to the main resort, to people staying in evacuation centres.

The respective owners of the Byron Motor Lodge Motel and the Byron Bay Hostel Holiday Village have both offered their buildings – which are currently closed – to DonateAStay.

Mr Saul said the plan was for the Motor Lodge to be used by essential local workers such as doctors and nurses, and that the backpackers could be used to house tradies from out-of-town who wanted to come and help out.

‘There are all these tradies who want to come and help people repair their homes, but because of the housing situation there’s nowhere for them to stay,’ he said.

‘The challenge is that the backpackers doesn’t currently have any furniture in it because it’s been closed for a while, but if we can source some beds from somewhere we’re in business.’

There are also challenges with using Airbnbs to house those who need a home.

‘The biggest problem is the length of stay,’ Mr Saul says.

‘People are telling us that they need somewhere to stay for between two weeks and a month.

Woodburn flooding aftermath, March 2022. Photo Leïla Joy.

Homes booked prior 

‘That takes us into Easter, when we hit a bit of a wall, because a lot of the homes are already booked for that period. You might think, “Well, just cancel the bookings” and I think quite a few hosts would probably be willing to do that.

‘But Airbnb has some pretty strict rules. If a host cancels a booking they penalise you in terms of your rating.

‘It’s stopping people from being able to offer their homes over Easter…’ 

Pressure is mounting on Airbnb to relax these rules in Northern NSW, as they have done in and around the Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the violent, power-driven Russian invasion. 

But so far, the company has declined to do so.

When asked, Airbnb said it was part of a relief project being run in coordination with the Red Cross.

Under this project, hosts on Airbnb can volunteer their rental homes to flood evacuees by providing their contact information using the online form on Airbnb’s floods 2022 website: www.airbnb.com.au/d/2022aufloods. 

It is unclear how many people in need have been matched with appropriate accommodation under this scheme.

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